Every Thing I Learned, I Learned From Grub: A Grown YAWPer Reflects on Her First Writing Workshop

By Katie Li

“You mean, you're taking a writing class at that place that has ads on the Green Line?”

This was the typical response I got when I told my friends about my summer plans.  I was fifteen years old and ready to write something more meaningful and imaginative than the brief exercises assigned for English class.  I was taking my very first creative writing workshop at Grub Street, a little known writing center that just happened to have a Young Adult Writers Program.  It was the year 2000, a few years before the birth of Facebook, and my friends were skeptical of any organization that promoted itself on the T.

I was hopeful, despite their taunting.  Grub Street seemed as good as any place, and I was not disappointed.  In fact, joining Grub Street was arguably the best (and very first) decision I would make in my writing career.

Every morning for two weeks, an intimate group of high school students gathered in a rented room in Coolidge Corner to study voice and dialogue, how to create believable characters and plot structures, and the importance of peer review.  Under the instruction of Chris Castellani, we read each other's work and the work of established authors.  We played writing games and used prompts that I still use today.  This workshop provided the foundation for my craft that I continued to build and refine at the Boston Arts Academy and Hampshire College, and still rely on as I work to become a published author.

Just as important as those lessons in craft or the stories we produced was the literary community we fostered in that class.  We were curious to hear what new ideas our classmates had written overnight, and we learned how to accept feedback.  Discussion was supportive, and sometimes challenging, but always focused on how we could help each other grow.  For a mixed-race girl who always felt a little different for wanting to write, this feeling of connection was empowering.

Building community is what Grub does best.  From gathering writers together for workshops and the Muse and the Marketplace Conference, to hosting lectures that embrace new opportunities for authors and publishers in the digital age, Grub is constantly connecting us to make our literary world a little less lonely.  From humble beginnings in rented spaces, Grub Street has blossomed into one of the largest independent writing centers in the country, encouraging writers of all ages to share their stories.

The Young Adult Writers Program has evolved with the rest of the organization, now offering free monthly workshops to teens in all genres, and granting teen writers stipends to participate in the YAWP summer fellowship program as working writers.  For teens who have to choose between summer jobs to earn what money they can and their desire to write, this is a huge opportunity.  It is the chance to join a community that nurtures creative expression and self-reflection, while also building relationships and learning what it means to be an artist in our society.  Ultimately, the Young Adult Writers Program is an exercise in building confidence.

Writing, for me, was never really a choice.  Since childhood, it was the most natural way for me to express my ideas and understand the world around me.  Participating in Grub Street as a teen writer helped me gain the courage needed to pursue this craft as a career.

Today, I am an emerging author and Grub Street is still my first stop for all things literary.  Grub is where I go for workshops on new ways to build my career or brush up on some tricky writing techniques.  I rely on The Rag, Grub’s weekly newsletter, for announcements about local events and upcoming submissions and contests.  I had a Grub Street manuscript consultation for my debut memoir, Running: Troubled Teenage Girls, First Love Lost, and Finding Myself.  I am submitting this book to publishers with the support of my agent, Jennifer Chen Tran of Penumbra Literary, who I serendipitously met after sitting next to each other at The Muse and The Marketplace Conference.

The Muse and The Marketplace has become a literary homecoming, where I meet new and familiar friends as we compare notes on the joys and challenges of the writing life.  We may work in different genres, or utilize different publishing strategies, but Grub Street is where we go to connect with each other.

And together, we can go far beyond the last stop on the T.

Grub Street’s Young Adult Writers Program teaches teens the craft of creative writing. In year-round out-of-school programming, creative writing boot camps, and a one-of-a-kind summer fellowship program, young writers learn from Boston’s best writing instructors, meet other teens who share their interests, and develop a lifelong love of creative expression. Most of the programming is free, and Grub Street also offers a comprehensive scholarship program. Please help us raise the $25,000 we need to run this tranformative program again this year.

Raised by martial artists, Katie Li grew up with fascinating stories and an eclectic cast of characters.  She continues this tradition in her work, writing fiction and narrative non-fiction about personal transformation and unlikely possibilities.  Her work has appeared in Write From Wrong, The Nexus, and performed by the Boston based theatre company, The Next Stage.  She is a regular contributor to Xenith’s advice column, “Writers on Writing.”  She has written her first book, Running: Troubled Teenage Girls, First Love Lost, and Finding Myself.  Learn more about Katie at

About the Author

GrubWrites is a space for the writing and reading community to share ideas and seek advice, a place where writers at the very beginning of their careers publish alongside established authors. Book lovers, we bring you reviews, recommendations, and conversations with exciting new authors to keep you up to speed on all things lit. Writers, this is your one stop shop for expert craft talk, opinions on how we learn and teach writing, and essential advice about the publishing industry.

Plus, we want to hear from you! Our ongoing call for submissions is open to literary community members of all types and persuasions. We want to hear from students, teachers, authors, readers, editors, agents, publicists, and any devotee of the written word. If you have something to say about writing, reading, the publishing industry, or anything related to the literary world, this is the place to voice it. We’re particularly committed to advocating for a diverse range of voices in the literary marketplace and raising the visibility of writers from under-represented communities.

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